Pan-fried red pepper & sprouts

The Brussels sprout, the divisive Christmas vegetable. I’ve always loved them, and I’ve never understood why some people hate them with an absolute passion. As a child, I ate Brussels every year with pancetta and chestnuts; this year, they were boiled and slathered in gravy – slightly less impressive, but tasty nonetheless. With a spare packet slowly withering in the pantry, I wanted to try something a little different, to prove that the traditional sprout isn’t only the derided counterpart to the Christmas roast potatoes: here I’ve pan-fried them with spices and red pepper.

 

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To serve two, you’ll need:

  • a small pack of Brussels sprouts
  • one red pepper
  • one clove of garlic
  • a thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • one small red chilli
  • dark soy sauce
  • sunflower oil, for frying

Begin by chopping off the small stalks and peeling away the outer leaves of each sprout. Finely chop the garlic and chilli, and grate the ginger. (I’ve just discovered how much better grated ginger is for frying. I can tell from the aroma released as it hits the hot oil; and there are no chunky bits of ginger which tend to overpower the other flavours.)

Slice the red pepper in thin strips, then into halves. Heat a good glug of oil in a large frying pan, and add the spices. Fry for no more than a minute, stirring constantly, before adding the sprouts. Mix to combine with the spices, fry for a few minutes, then add the pepper, with more oil if needed.

Fry for around fifteen minutes, moving everything around regularly; but leave the veg to stick to the pan to acquire a bit of a chargrilled tan. In the meantime, set some rice to boil – I will almost always opt for brown, as it’s the wholegrain – the white has been stripped of the bran and the germ, which contain all the fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Here’s a link to a useful article on the advantages (and disadvantages) of brown over white.

Once the sprouts are cooked – soft, but still with bite – add a tablespoon or so of dark soy sauce. I added this for lack of my usual tamari, but in all honesty, I preferred the richness of the dark here: helping everything to caramelise, it complimented the sweetness of the red pepper. Cook for another minute on a low heat before serving over the rice. I also added chickpeas to the pan to cook through, for extra protein. (As I’m at home, I’m enjoying the luxury of organic beans and pulses, and boy are they superior; softer, bigger, and chemical-free. It’ll be hard to shift back to bog-standard tins.) This is a good way to use up a surplus of sprouts, and would go just as well with wholewheat noodles.

Lentil bolognese

If there any purists of Italian cuisine reading this, I wholeheartedly apologise for what I have done to one of your classics. I’ve ripped the meat out, shunned the egg pasta, and given Parmesan the cold shoulder. I’m not even sure if I can call this a bolognese. Nevertheless, since it retains something of a meaty texture and still oozes a luxuriant, tomatoey sauce, this recipe can keep the bolognese as its birthright.

Also, in my defence – this is delicious. It’s hearty, healthy, and tasty, everything a bolognese should be. Yes, I’ve added peppers, to add more fuel to the fire; but in my opinion, they gave the sauce another layer of sweetness. If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to a meat-based bolognese, or, if you’re veggie, or a vegan like me, this is the way to go.

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To serve two generously, you’ll need:

  • 150g dry green lentils
  • two small peppers, red and orange
  • one medium carrot
  • two large sticks of celery
  • one medium brown onion
  • two cloves of garlic
  • one tin of good quality chopped tomatoes
  • tomato puree
  • chilli flakes
  • balsamic vinegar
  • dry spaghetti

Begin by putting the lentils on to boil (not too vigorously) for forty minutes, or until tender. Drain and rinse well in a sieve.

Roughly chop the onion, carrot, and celery. Heat a glug of olive or rapeseed (canola) oil in a large saucepan or crockpot (frying pan is too small!). Cook gently for ten minutes, until softened.

Add finely chopped garlic, and cook, stirring, until aromatic. Tip in the finely sliced peppers, and fry for a few minutes – you’ll probably need to add more oil. Add a good squirt of tomato puree and stir until incorporated. Cook for another minute.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes, adding a little water to clean the tin out. Give it all a good mix, seasoning well with salt, pepper, and chilli flakes, and leave to simmer for half an hour. Then, add the cooked lentils, and 3/4 tbsp balsamic vinegar – this will give it a lovely sweetness – and simmer for another ten minutes, while your spaghetti is cooking.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the water. If you’re serving two, add the pasta to the pan and incorporate loosely with tongs, adding a splash of the water if it needs loosening up. If you’re serving your own lonely self, transfer half the bolognese to a plastic container to cool down before putting in the fridge or freezing, and combine spaghetti with the other half.

Serve in bowls, with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast. Delicious!

 

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Christmas dinner: vegan-style

We are all fond of celebrating special occasions through food: from birthdays, visits, achievements, to holidays. Christmas evidently falls in the latter category, with the hotly-anticipated dinner celebrated as the day’s crowning glory. In general, the whole affair is a massive slog: preparing days in advance, cooking for most of the morning, facing the Everest of washing up in the aftermath. But it is tradition, nonetheless, and Christmas Day wouldn’t be the same without it.

Tradition – a handy notion any omnivore could use to justify meat-eating at Christmas, not just in general. Turkey, stuffing, pigs-in-blankets – all essential components of the meal. Gravy must contain animal substances, and potatoes gain ultimate crispness from duck fat. Take away the animal products, and it’s not Christmas dinner. But from anyone’s perspective, it shouldn’t be what you sit down to eat that matters, but the act of sitting down to eat itself. The very essence of Christmas (in a secular view) is goodwill and enjoyment: and the traditional Christmas dinner, in its bare basics, occludes all vestiges of those. Call me a kill-joy, but there’s a bit too much kill thrown into the mix.

 

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Despite this, the veganised Christmas dinner I shared with my housemates was modelled on the one we’ve all eaten throughout our lives: the meaty main, potatoes, veg, gravy. So to an extent, tradition still reigns supreme; but any tradition can be open to interpretation. My vegetarian housemate and I spent an afternoon making a nut roast from Bosh, and she took immense pride in preparing Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s vegan gravy. We parboiled our potatoes before roasting them in plenty of olive oil (in absence of vegetable), salt, pepper, and rosemary; there were parsnips and vegan stuffing balls; carrots, broccoli, peas. Movement was difficult after. And although I’m not a hugely sentimental person, the food took backseat to the actual occasion, even to the 99p bottle of Shloer.

My point is that Christmas dinner is so much more than the food, although a McDonald’s on the day is pretty blasphemous – but if that’s what you want, so be it. Doing it as a vegan doesn’t make it in any way sub-standard; in all honesty, I never particularly liked turkey anyway, and usually slathered it in sauce to detract from its dry texture. The nut roast, on the other hand, was glorious, and not one bird had their life cut short for it. And when you can make enough stuffing for four people from a 20p pack, you know the veggie option’s at least got cost-effectiveness going for it.

What do I really want? For more people to try a vegan Christmas. Spread that festive goodwill beyond men and women. You wouldn’t stuff your dog’s interior with herbs and serve that as your centrepiece, so there is no reason why you should a bird: a turkey wants life just as much as we do. Merry Christmas!

 

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Smoky baked beans

Once in a blue moon, I have a beans-on-toast craving. There’s something eternally reassuring about slices of soggy toasted bread, bearing a burden of sweet beans. They bring to mind childhood lunches on cold afternoons in the school holidays, and for many they’re a go-to in times of emergency, idleness, or self-pitying illness.

I won’t dispute the institution that is baked beans on toast: but I will offer a slightly fancier version, for times when Heinz won’t cut it (and there are such times – I’m sorry, these beans are on a whole new level.) I’ve used liquid smoke here, although a good barbecue sauce will do the trick.

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To serve two, you’ll need:

  • a can of cannellini beans, mixed beans, or haricot beans
  • a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • one small brown onion
  • two cloves of garlic
  • half a small red chilli
  • tomato puree
  • a tsp each of cayenne pepper, chilli powder, smoked paprika, and cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • tbsp liquid smoke (I bought mine from Tesco)
  • 1/2 tbsp agave syrup, or 1 tsp brown sugar
  • tsp balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper.

Begin by finely chopping the onion, and gently cooking until softened. Add finely chopped garlic and chilli, and cook for two minutes, before adding the spices and frying for another minute.

Squirt in a tbsp of tomato puree, and stir well to incorporate. Pour in the chopped tomatoes, drained beans, liquid smoke, syrup, and vinegar, before leaving to simmer for half an hour, stirring regularly – you want a thick consistency.

Serve with potatoes and steamed veg – or, to pay homage to its roots, pile on top of crispy ciabatta and sprinkle with parsley and nutritional yeast. Now that’s beans on toast.

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Roasted pumpkin and quinoa bowl

Give me a grain, a bean, and plenty of veggies, and I’ve got a delicious dinner. Pumpkin and butternut squash are very abundant at this time of year, and they’re so versatile, lending themselves well to roasting, putting in stews, and blitzing into soups. I love big wedges of pumpkin roasted with plenty of fresh herbs – they can be left in the oven whilst you get on with other things, and then served with a quick assortment of whatever you’ve got in your cupboards.

Make sure you don’t throw away the seeds – they make an fantastic topping to salads, once washed, dried, and roasted in a little salt and oil.

 

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To serve two, you’ll need:

  • half of one small pumpkin
  • one small head of broccoli, or a tin of beans
  • one small white onion
  • tin of chopped tomatoes
  • tomato puree
  • handful plum tomatoes
  • two cloves of garlic
  • handful sprigs fresh rosemary
  • quinoa / couscous
  • vegetable stock
  • olive oil
  • red wine vinegar
  • dried herbs: thyme, oregano

 

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Carefully slice the pumpkin in half, using a large and sturdy knife. Cut one half into six wedges and and rub with olive oil, then season with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Lay on a roasting tray, and place in the oven for around an hour.

Peel and finely chop the onion, and gently cook until softened. Add finely chopped garlic and cook for two minutes before mixing with a squirt of tomato puree. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and bring to a simmer, adding a 2 tsp of dried herbs, and a generous splash of red wine vinegar. After fifteen minutes, add either broccoli florets or beans, and simmer until the broccoli is tender.

In the meantime, put the quinoa on to cook, or pour boiling water over couscous and cover. Do add seasoning to the quinoa as it simmers – a pinch of vegetable stock will do the trick.

When the pumpkin skin is crisped and the flesh soft, serve everything in a bowl, and sprinkle with nutritional yeast. Eat with cosy socks on in front of the TV.

 

Chunky orzo stew

Recipes aren’t just lists of ingredients – for me, they’re interactions of sort. The author is putting out the recipe as part and parcel of an exchange of knowledge, and of culture and identity: they’re sharing their skills, and a memory attached to the dish we’re looking to make. Every recipe I’ve written myself has a little something of ‘me’ in it – my preferences and tastes, and perhaps the recollection of the occasion I first made it.

This one recalls to my mind a vegetable soup my mum used to make regularly in the winter. She’d use fresh organic veg from our weekly delivery box, following one of their recipes. I liked it so much that I continued to make it for myself in my first year of uni, carrying with me a little bit of home. I’d completely forgotten about this now, in my third year – and with the recipe buried away somewhere, I improvised my own.

Hot bowls of hearty soup are an absolute winner in the colder months, and this was no disappointment; the red wine vinegar and basil give so much flavour.

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To serve two, you’ll need:

  • Two small / one large courgette
  • Half one onion
  • Half a stick of celery
  • One carrot
  • Two small cloves of garlic
  • Tin of beans – butter, kidney, canellini, chickpeas all work well
  • Tomato puree
  • Tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 300ml vegetable stock
  • 150g dried orzo pasta, or other small pasta shape
  • Two handfuls fresh basil
  • Dried rosemary
  • Dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Red wine vinegar

Begin by dicing the carrot and celery, and roughly chopping the onion. Heat a glug of oil in a large saucepan, and gently cook on a low heat for ten minutes.

Finely chop the garlic and add to the pan, turning up the heat. Cook until fragrant, before squeezing in 1/2 tbsp of tomato puree. Dice the courgette and add to the pan. Cook for another minute, stirring, before pouring in the tin of chopped tomatoes, and stock.

Add a tsp each of the dried herbs, along with crushed chilli flakes if desired. Stir well to incorporate, add a splash of red wine vinegar, and bring to the boil before turning the heat down and simmering for ten minutes. Top up with a little water if it’s looking dry.

Cook the pasta in the pan for fifteen minutes – towards the end, tip in the drained beans to warm through. Stir in the torn basil leaves, season, and taste: add more vinegar if required. After another five minutes, serve in pasta bowls with a sprinkling of nutritional yeast, and eat with spoons.

Thai green vegetable curry

After the Pad Thai I made recently, I’ve been curious to try more Thai food. I’ve never eaten at a Thai restaurant before, but from the little of the cuisine that I’ve tried, it’s in a whole different sphere – a balance of sweet and savoury, coming together so well on the plate.

It seems like there’s also plenty of room for being veggie in Thai cuisine, too. Although seafood and fish sauce are common ingredients, they’re not always needed, and tofu also makes an appearance. This recipe for Thai green curry is Jamie Oliver’s, taken from his Home Cooking site – aimed at youngsters, but fantastic in delivering illustrated step-by-step guides to the basics, and the more difficult. This curry is so, so flavoursome, relatively easy to prepare, and packed full of nutrients. If you’ve not had a Thai green curry before, don’t reach for that pre-prepared tin – try this instead.

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Although the original serves four, it can be halved, if you have ideas as to what to do with the remaining squash (roast whole, roast in cubes, put in salads…). The list of ingredients may seem rather long, but for the paste, it’s only a case of peeling and throwing into a food processor. I had no green chilli, which was fine, but definitely include it if you have a good spice tolerance. The lime leaves may be a bit tricky to come by – I used dried Kaffir lime leaves from M&S, but I assure you, the investment is worth it. Also, don’t waste the remainder of the can of coconut milk – you could freeze it in a separate container, as I did, or use it another dish.

Although it’s not necessary to peel the squash, if you prefer to, then a fairly easy way to do so is to stand the squash upright, and use a large serrated knife (bread knife will do) to remove the skin. Use a large sharp knife to cut it in half, before scooping out the seeds. Chop into cubes. Finally, don’t substitute the red pepper for a green, orange, or a yellow: any other colour just doesn’t have the right kind of sweetness.

I’d love ideas on what to try next!

 

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